You may have heard this before, but quilts have played many roles in the Civil War. The most popular use was along the Underground Railroad. Each quilt pattern had a different meaning, and the escaped slaves were well versed in this secret language. If a certain pattern was left out on the line to ‘air’ then it might mean that it was safe to stop there for the night. Another pattern might mean that they were not safe to stop at, so keep going. There seems to be some debate whether this all is actually true, but it’s nice to believe that it is.
Other quilts were made for the soldiers. There were thousands of men on both sides who were always in need of bedding. After all, living out in the elements on campaign is rough on fabric. Not only for the ones out in the field, but the guys in the hospitals were in need of warm covers, too. The women at home had to feel like they were contributing and this was their way of doing so.
As the war went on it became harder for the women in the south to obtain the necessary fabric and supplies for quilts, but they often found substitutes. The blockade was effectively keeping any European fabric from entering the southern states. Women learned to weave a crude fashion of fabric referred to as homespun. Quilts, and clothes, were often made of this fabric.
There are many books on Amazon with patterns for the blocks, along with various free places on the internet. A very good site that I found was this Civil War Quilts blog by Barbara Brackman. She not only provided a different block each week with the pattern that you could print off, but she also gave a lot of history behind each block. If you are into quilting and vintage fabric patterns, I think that you will enjoy this blog. It appears that this month she has started a new free series as well.
I’m not a quilter, but my mom does a lot of it. I might get into it when I get older because it’s a great way to pass something beautiful on to somebody whom you love. My mom has made a couple of quilts for me and I love them. At night when I lay under one of them I know that somebody spent time and energy making it for me so that I could stay warm. I’m sure that many soldiers had the same thought, or wondered what the woman was like who stitched his quilt.